Out of the Cloister but Still on the Margins? Recent Publications in Canadian Religious History
Marshall, David, Journal of Canadian Studies
A Concise History of Christianity in Canada. Eds. Terrence Murphy and Roberto Perrin. Toronto: Oxford University Press, 1996.
Henry John Cody. An Outstanding Life. D.C. Masters. Toronto: Dundurn Press, 1995.
Changing Roles of Women Within the Christian Church in Canada. Eds. Elizabeth Gillian Muir and Marilyn Whiteley. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1995.
Femmes et religions. Dir., Denise Veillette. Quebec: Corporation canadienne des sciences religieuses, Les Presses de l'Universite Laval, 1995.
"Through Sunshine and Shadow": The Women's Christian Temperance Union, Evangelicalism, and Reform in Ontario, 1874-1930. Sharon Ann Cook. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995.
The Work of Their Hands: Mennonite Women's Societies in Canada. Gloria Neufeld Redekop. Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press for the Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion, 1996.
Christian Ethics and Political Economy in North America. P. Travis Kroeker. Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1995.
Religious history has been one of the most vibrant fields in Canadian historiography over the past decade. It has been at the centre of discussions about modernization, with a particular focus on the question of secularization. The secularization debate is primarily concerned with the role or power of religion and churches in society. This emphasis has diverted attention away from how religion shapes individual lives, and it obscures how religion shapes many other themes in Canadian history. How religion intersects with questions of ethnicity, gender identification and class consciousness is now becoming a major interest to historians of religion.1 In particular, as the books I review here indicate, religious history is being integrated with gender, especially the experience of women, and ethnic identity. In other words, it is being integrated with the main currents of Canadian historiography.
As the social history of religion emerges, the Church is no longer a prism to understand the religious past. The shift towards religious history also reflects important alterations in the Canadian religious landscape. As Terence Murphy concludes in the epilogue to A Concise History of Christianity in Canada, "the defining reality of contemporary Canadian society is pluralism, which includes not only ... religious diversity, but also recognition of tolerance of differing beliefs and customs as a basic societal value. Whatever the fortunes of the Christian churches they must live within a framework that precludes the sort of cultural authority they once enjoyed" (369). The move away from Church history parallels the decline of the historic "mainstream" churches and the emergence of many new religious movements. Religious beliefs that are not defined by adherence to a particular church or denomination play an important role in the contemporary religious landscape. With the current sensitivity to the diversity of the Canadian experience, any overarching religious paradigm has been shattered. The books under review are a good reflection of the diversity of subject matter in religious history and of the difficulty in defining a Canadian religious community or national religious experience. Instead of shedding light on what is distinctive about religion or church life in Canada, historians of religion in Canada now focus on how religion contributes to the many identities in Canada.
The multi-authored A Concise History of Christianity in Canada is a good reflection of the emphasis on religion as opposed to Church and the integration of religious history with the main currents of social history. The volume is structured around the major landmarks in religious history. Key dates are 1840 for Quebec and 1854 for English Canada. In French-speaking Canada, 1840 marked the beginnings of religious revival. The Catholic church began a serious campaign to make French Canadians a truly Catholic people. This crusade "blossom[ed] into the Ultramontane revival" (xxx). In the English-speaking colonies, 1854 marked the final separation of Church and State, called "disestablishment." Religious life followed the principle of voluntarism. The trends that accompanied this important watershed, especially evangelicalism, missionary outreach and denominational commitment, become central after 1854. By identifying the importance of Church-State relations, the authors acknowledge the absence of an established Church in Canada, and demonstrate the effect of this lack on religion in Canada. The voluntary system leads to a great diversity of religious experience, denominational growth, ecumenical action and sectarian dissent. It also compels a degree of religious tolerance.
A Concise History of Christianity in Canada captures the diversity of religious experience in Canada. Since religion is often at the core of people's identities, immigration patterns are central to understanding the history of Christianity in Canada. Canada's religious diversity is the result of the great variety of peoples who have immigrated here. The resolution of the Church-State controversies in the midnineteenth century in part stemmed from the diversity of religious peoples in the colonies, and the end of religious establishment fostered further diversity. This variety of religious identification has become greater as immigration continues. The book presents fine portraits of Irish, Ukrainian and Italian Catholics, as well as of women's and Native peoples' religions. The authors are also sensitive to regional variations, and the book is particularly strong in its coverage of the Maritimes.
The authors are also careful to note the similarities in the religious developments and character of the "two solitudes." Brian Clark outlines the underlying similarities between ultramontanism and evangelicalism. Both English Protestants and French Catholics were imbued with a strong sense of mission and a determination to proselytize and shape cultural life and social institutions. Both religions engendered a deep personal commitment to faith. Clark challenges A.R.M. Lowers influential concept - the "primary antithesis" in Canadian life between English Protestantism and French Catholicism. It is hard to imagine a perspective more indicative of the change that has occurred in our understanding of Canadian religious history.2 Clark pays more attention to religious beliefs and matters of faith than to the conflicting interests of denominationalism or the political ramifications of religious bigotry.
Each author was assigned five themes to investigate: lay religious practice and outlook; Church-State relations; interdenominational relations; missionaries and prospective converts; and the effect of Christianity on society and culture. Most authors gave consistent coverage of themes, with the exception of lay religious piety and practice. The subject of popular piety is best discussed in the chapter on New France by Terrence Crowley. For this early period, Crowley is able to draw on the innovative research of Quebec historians and the insights of European and colonial historians. This area of popular religiosity is not as well developed in the other chapters because there is a lack of innovation in writing on Canadian religious history. Many historians of religion in Canada, especially those writing about the Protestant tradition, have focussed their analysis on the Word by using the tools of the intellectual historian. New topics have been introduced, which align religious history closer to the laity, for example, women's piety. But in introducing these topics, historians have focussed on analyzing the written word.3 By emphasizing textual analysis, historians limit their ability to study the practice of religion and the different forms of worship in everyday life.
Some of the weaknesses of historiography emerge in this volume. For example, religion in the prairie west is not dealt with extensively;4 the question of religion and class is overlooked; and there is little analysis of working-class religion. Clark contends that "fundamentalist crusades" were "largely unsuccessful in Canada" outside the Baptist church; this notion needs further investigation (344). There are topics in this volume that do not adequately acknowledge existing literature. There is little discussion of the Mennonites, Hutterites or Doukhobors; for example, the Mennonite communities of southern Manitoba are overlooked.5 Scant attention is paid to the significant Mormon presence in southern Alberta. Charles Ora Card, the "prophet" who led the Mormon trek to the Cardston area of Alberta, is not mentioned.6 These "dissenting" traditions would provide a means to look at the extent or limits of religious tolerance in Canada. As well, insufficient attention is paid to the relationship of Canadian Christians to people of minority faiths - Jews, Jehovah's Witnesses or the Latter Day Saints. Religious diversity is stressed throughout the book, yet religious tolerance is never examined.
D.C. Masters's biography of Henry John Cody, the prominent Anglican priest and educator, is representative of a more traditional school of church history. The biography gives a solid and detailed outline of Cody's life but does not probe deeply into the spiritual issues surrounding his thought and activities. This shortcoming is a result of one of the greatest challenges facing historians of Protestantism. It is a religion of the Word, which was often most effectively communicated through sermons delivered at Sunday services. The Protestant faith has always been heavily dependent on oral culture. Cody relied on the spoken word to convey his religious faith. Masters concludes that Cody communicated through the force of his personality, and explains that his sermon delivery was always vigorous and enthusiastic. He did not leave volumes of sermons; he published no articles in the denominational press. Masters developed the religious aspects of Cody's life indirectly.
In key sections of the biography, the lack of written sources is crucial. One wonders, for instance, about the role of Cody's steadfast faith in helping him cope with the death of his mother when he was 15 years old, the death of his 30-year-old son Maurice in 1927 and the death of Florence, his first wife, at age 38. The biography explores the life of an evangelical Anglican, a tradition within the mainstream that is little understood in the Canadian context. The cornerstones of Cody's faith were belief in justification by faith alone, recognition of the authority of Scripture and a rejection of excessive ritual in church services. His preaching was always biblical, and it emphasized the cardinal themes of evangelicalism: the sovereignty of God, human sinfulness and salvation through faith. Cody never dwelled on the condemnation of the wicked; instead, he stressed salvation by God's grace. According to Masters, Cody never strayed very far from these certainties. He was a conservative in the theological turmoil that characterized his times. Cody would discuss modern biblical scholarship but believed the Bible to be true. He believed the miraculous events described in it were within the "bounds of possibility."
Masters points religious historians in one important new direction. Cody was involved in the revision of the Anglican Hymn Book and the creation of a Canadian Prayer Book. The role of hymns and prayers in worship has been largely overlooked as a way to understand the practice of religion in Canada. We know a great deal of what was said or preached in churches, but very little about the worship service and how congregations praised God. Masters paints a vivid picture of the tightly knit evangelical congregation of St Paul's Anglican Church in Toronto and the broader evangelical Anglican community of southwestern Ontario. This community of believers developed a cohesive identity not just through its religious outlook and its struggles with the High Church, but also through the experience of weekly worship together.
Questions concerning the relationships between religion, gender and ethnicity have recently moved to the forefront of Canadian religious history. Four of the books under review deal with women and religion. The study of women's piety challenges many traditional foundations of the historiography. Since women have not been ordained until recently, attention is placed on the lay religious movements. The whole question of secularization is thrown open to renewed debate as it appears that religion perhaps has played a more vital role in the lives of women in Canada.
Changing Roles of Women within the Christian Church in Canada is a collection of essays about women's activities within the Church. Many of the essays deal with the tension experienced by women in churches. On the one hand, churches provided women with new opportunities through numerous forms of mission work; on the other hand, they imposed real limits on women through the persistent refusal to ordain them. Some of the essays provide fascinating new details of this well-documented theme. Margaret Whitehead uncovers impressive evidence of women preaching the gospel on the British Columbia frontier. Women led Bible classes, performed funeral services and made pastoral visits as part of their domestic duties. Whitehead reminds us that these expanded duties were the result of the pressing needs of the frontier; they should not be misconstrued as evidence of newfound power for women. Marilyn Whiteley outlines the activities of Methodist women evangelists in the late nineteenth century, such as Miss L.H. Dimsdale, whose popularity in the 1880s and 1890s rivalled that of the famous evangelistic team of Crossley and Hunter. Whitely explains that Dimsdale's appeal as a revivalist was rooted in the Victorian ideal of women's unique moral and spiritual qualities. Women evangelists used their special feminine skills and emotional qualities being earnest, tender, loving, sentimental, patient, persistent and tactful - to encourage spiritual and moral development. They were doing in public what they did within their families. Evangelical feminism was short-lived; by the 1900s male professional evangelists superseded women evangelists.
In a fine biographical portrait, Katherine McKenna provides readers with a detailed look at Harriet Dobbs Cartwright's conversion experience, and describes how her piety shaped her married life. Cartwright's commitment to an active religious life encouraged her to challenge the traditional role of a minister's wife. She insisted on being active in the Kingston Female Benevolent Society. McKenna's close attention to Cartwright's spirituality sheds light on the powerful degree to which religion allowed women to challenge their prescribed roles. Laura Stanley provides a convincing analysis of the spiritual motivations behind the work of the Sisters of Religious Hospitalers of Saint Joseph at the Tracadie Leper Hospital in New Brunswick. Becoming a Sister was not merely an alternative to less attractive choices; it was an act deeply rooted in Catholic faith. Although much feared and often despised, the leper was an emblem of suffering and conformity to God's will. Care for lepers was a symbol of Christian service and sacrifice, a form of martyrdom. Pious Catholic women cared for lepers as a way to test their Christian virtue, affirm their faith and attain holiness. The squalid conditions confronting the Sisters confirmed their overwhelming and profound religious motivation. The power of religious belief and commitment that motivated women to enter a sisterhood and engage in social activism is often downplayed in historians' accounts!
Jan Noel's essay on the benevolent activities of Montreal women in the earlynineteenth century has the most far-reaching implications for understanding women and religion in Canadian life. Most religious history concentrates on the period between 1880 and 1920 - the period of evangelical feminism. Noel argues that in the earlier part of the nineteenth century women had many more opportunities than they did by mid-century. In the early 1800s in Montreal, Noel notes, women organized most of the welfare activity. This activity was not a middle-class response to idleness or an extension of the domestic sphere. Instead it was an extension of the family economy of the "ancien regime," of which women were an integral part. Welfare activities were consistent with women's wide sphere of responsibilities. It was not until mid-century that women found their social welfare and benevolent work overshadowed by the activities of Bishop Bourget's welfare institutions, Father Chiniquy's temperance crusade and the philanthropic activities of John Redpath and the Lyman brothers. Noel suggests that women's struggle for a greater role in church and society in the late-nineteenth century was a quest to return to a lost world and to re-establish faded opportunities.
Noel also captures the diversity of women's religious lives. She distinguishes three categories of religious women: nuns, evangelical women, and Catholic laywomen and women from established churches. Evangelical women concentrated on spreading the gospel and bringing about conversion through temperance crusades. Women from the Catholic Church, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland were interested in building and operating orphanages, asylums, hospitals and rescue homes.
The book pays little attention to Quebec. Noel's essay, the only one on Quebec, emphasizes Anglo-Quebec women. The two solitudes of Canadian historiography are clearly reflected in works on religion. Historical studies of religion in French Quebec society tend to be linked to sociology, theology, religious studies and feminism. Through such an interdisciplinary approach, the essays in Femmes et religions explore the confrontation between feminism and the patriarchal order in the Quebec Church. Particular attention is paid to women's participation in religious orders. The contributors demonstrate that throughout Quebec history a gendered understanding of God, Jesus and Mary served to strengthen social stereotypes of pious, subordinate domestic women.
The volume shatters any image of a male-dominated Quebec Catholic church. Recent trends point to a precipitous decline in the number of active women in Catholic orders. But those still active have become much more visible and powerful. If history is any guide, a decline in the participation of Quebec women will rob the Catholic Church in Quebec of its most dynamic force. Traditionally women were more numerous and more active in church life. Since women laboured in marginal or subordinate roles they frequently became a dissenting and creative force in the Church. This volume charts the ways in which feminism has recently served as a catalyst of change in the Quebec Church. The new inclusive language and nongendered understanding of God, for example, are rooted in the dissent of feminists from traditional Catholic norms. Many new religious observances were designed by the feminist movement in the Church. What is clear in this volume and in Changing Roles is that women's strong sense of personal piety has led to a conviction of spiritual power and has served as a source of moral authority in church affairs, family life and the larger community.
Sharon Ann Cook's study of the Women's Christian Temperance Union in Ontario demonstrates how women derived a sense of power and moral authority from their religion. Through Sunshine and Shadow opens with an account of the riot caused by the Ottawa Young Women's Christian Temperance Union when they distributed anti-drinking handbills in Hull, Quebec. Cook demonstrates that the first incident of violence did not deter Bertha Wright and her dedicated young followers. They returned to Hull and incited a second riot in which the women were "attacked and knocked down." Cook's description of the Ottawa YWCTU challenges the image of the pious Victorian middle-class women who stayed at home and gently nurtured their families and confined their social activities to the local church.
Cook provides a detailed analysis of the WCTU in Ontario, which she describes as a distinct women's culture based on complementary middle-class and evangelical values. According to Cook, historians most interested in the WCTU's social reform platform and quest for suffrage have overlooked its "deep and fundamental religiosity." She draws on the concept of "evangelical feminism" to describe the religious culture of the WCTU. Cook is less ambiguous than other commentators about the role religion plays in providing women with new opportunities. She declares that "it was evangelicalism's emancipatory theology that originally empowered women [and] evangelicalism's campaigns taught women the power of effective collective action and provided them with a rationale to take action against male vice"(7). Evangelicalism imbued women with a sense of moral righteousness and bred discontent with whatever undermined the primacy of family life and the sanctity of the home. Temperance was a respectable way for women to voice their outrage. The evangelical code championed by members of the WCTU led to their insistence that society be built on the moral virtues of work, sobriety, thrift, duty and the sanctity of family life.
The WCTU is an example of conservative evangelism, an element of religious life in Canada that has been overshadowed by the thought and activities of more liberal or progressive-minded religious groups. Cook demonstrates that conservative evangelicals never eschewed social action. They emphasized the individual's spiritual relationship with and salvation through God while never losing sight of his or her place in family and social structures. Although the WCTU focussed much of its effort on the imbiber, broader social action was an integral part of its programme. Cook outlines the impressive range of WCTU social reform and political activities, which included the Sabbath observance movement, social purity crusades, prison work, missions to labour camps and charity work for the poor. Her analysis dispels the view that the WCTU naively thought all social problems could be easily ameliorated by ending the drink trade. The WCTU did acknowledge that alcohol was at the root of a great deal of poverty, but it also acknowledged that drinking was often the result of poverty, an inevitable escape from the grim suffering associated with an impoverished family life and a harsh work life. Temperance crusaders understood the societal problems that caused alcoholism.
One of the most important aspects of this book is Cook's distinction between the WCTU leadership and the local, mostly rural, WCTUs. She suggests the two groups developed in very different ways in the early-twentieth century. The leadership shifted its focus to a more general and more secular moralism that was concerned with ethical conduct and culture. The local chapters never lost their conservative evangelical commitment. In contrast to Nellie McClung's temperance speeches, which were increasingly casual about religion, the records of the local unions are full of references to all-day prayer meetings, Bible readings and hymn singing. Cook sees secularization not as a male phenomenon, but as an urban phenomenon. In the end, a movement that began as something that empowered women ended up severely constraining women's role. In this analysis, Cook provides an important gender dimension to understanding the roots of fundamentalism in Canadian society. Her analysis also points to the deep roots of fundamentalism within evangelicalism.8
The creation of alternate organizations by women to realize their own religiosity and establish their own power base is explicitly explored by Gloria Redekop's The Work of Their Hands: Mennonite Women's Societies in Canada. This study is based on extensive reading of Mennonite sources and a comprehensive sociological survey of Mennonite women's church organizations. Redekop is concerned with one major question: did Mennonite women devise a culture of their own in which they did not feel marginal? Mennonite women were excluded from leadership roles, and their work in the church was considered to be subsidiary. They created their own church society - Verein - which functioned as a "parallel church."
Redekop emphasizes that Mennonite women's involvement in religious societies was not initially part of a broader women's movement, but rather the result of their belief that they were commanded by God to spread His gospel. For example, the Mary Martha Mission Group in Altona, Manitoba, regarded its work as a "special role ... in the service of the Master" (42). Verein activities were threefold: service, fellowship and worship. In the early years, most of the groups emphasized service. Activities focussed on supporting foreign missions through the sale of handiwork, such as quilts. Mennonite service work also extended to helping local churches during the Great Depression and sending handiwork and other supplies to overseas soldiers during the First and Second World Wars. The Verein meetings always had a strong spiritual emphasis. They opened with Bible readings, prayer and hymn singing. These aspects of worship were strikingly similar to the worship services in the weekly Mennonite church services. Redekop's close attention to the rituals of the Verein provides evidence that Mennonite women determined "how their spiritual needs would be met. They could study the Bible for themselves, decide which songs they would sing, and choose which books they would read" (51). Despite their apparent acceptance of male dominance in Mennonite church and society, women conducted their own worship service in Verein meetings.
Redekop notes that the Verein flourished in the 1950s, then experienced a decline in growth in the 1960s and only marginal growth in the 1970s and 1980s. The stagnation in growth was not reflected in a stagnation in activities. Indeed, the Verein changed in important ways in the 1970s and 1980s. There was less emphasis on sewing and handicrafts and more on fellowship. The means of fund-raising changed from raising money at auctions and bazaars to receiving it through direct donations or offerings. And the Verein felt pressures from society. Questions about the role of women in Mennonite society were being raised. Redekop notes that The Feminine Mystique was reviewed in The Canadian Mennonite. The review implied criticism of the way the Bible was interpreted to keep Mennonite women submissive.
Verein activities focussed on Bible study, and Mennonite women questioned male-- centred biblical interpretations, especially those that argued women should be silent on religious matters. By the 1980s, Mennonite women put forth new exegesis of Scripture, which challenged biblically sanctioned restrictions for women, overthrew sexist language and encouraged female images of God. As well, resolutions from Mennonite conferences encouraged women's participation in many aspects of the ministry, including worship, evangelizing, teaching, counselling, visitation and decision-making. Mennonite women are more active within the Church, rendering the fellowship and worship aspects of the Verein less pressing. Since Mennonite women have taken up many areas of social service within the broader community, the service aspect of Verein activity is less necessary. Despite the distinct denominational and ethnic heritage of Mennonite women, their story is not unique, and there is much in this study that is echoed in the history of other church women in Canada.
What is missing from Redekop's valuable study of Mennonite women's organizations is sufficient attention to the wider context of Mennonite women's lives and Mennonite culture. Much is added to Redekop's analysis throughout the valuable essay by Marlene Epp, "Nonconformity and Nonresistance: What Did it Mean to Mennonite Women," in Changing Roles. Epp notes that women carried much of the burden of Mennonite separateness and nonconformity. She points out that the Mennonite doctrine of non-resistance affected women very differently than men. Mennonite women were not conscripted into alternate service during the Second World War; they were left on the farms and in the villages, where they often had the sole responsibility for their families. They were compelled to enter the work force. The war began a process that encouraged Mennonite women to break down the traditional barriers of separation and become more fully integrated into Canadian society. The most often cited symbol of this acculturation was the increasing use of English in the Mennonite community. An equally visible symbol for women, according to Epp, was the decline of Mennonite women's symbolic dress. Women were required to wear a bonnet and plain dress. The bonnet, in particular, was a symbol of separation from the dominant culture. No such dress code was imposed on men. Resistance to traditional dress began in the 1950s. By the 1960s traditional dress was in decline. Epp links this rebellion from traditional Mennonite culture to the "gradual secularization," or acculturation, of Mennonite society after the war.9
Clergy in Canada have attempted to translate their religious idealism into social and economic policy. P. Travis Kroeker's Christian Ethics and Political Economy in North America focusses on the social gospels of J.S. Woodsworth and Walter Rauschenbusch, the Christian realism of Reinhold Niebuhr and the Canadian Fellowship for a Christian Social Order and the recent pastoral letters published by Canadian and American Roman Catholic bishops reflecting on the hardships caused by the "deep recession" of the early 1980s. The book is primarily a study of ethics.
Kroeker's analysis is rooted in Max Weber's pessimistic prediction about the fate of religion in a world that venerates science. The crux of his argument is that the social ethics espoused by social gospellers, Christian realists and Catholic bishops are all rooted in liberalism and its belief in progress. The liberal paradigm focusses narrowly on economic growth, constantly rising consumption and permanent improvement in the standard of living as the key to building a more ethical social order. Liberal Christians assume that a Christian social order can be brought about by the application of Christian ethics through human agency. In analyzing the writings of Gregory Vlastos, King Gordon, John Line, Eric Havelock and Eugene Forsey, Kroeker concludes that they uncritically accepted Marxist revolutionary aspirations by thinking that state-socialist planning for abundance could overcome injustice and create fellowship and humanity in society. Kroeker says the "modem social crisis" is primarily spiritual and not economic or political.
Kroeker echoes George Grant and other thinkers who lament the decline of spiritual values in modern Canadian life. He suggests that major churches and seminaries in North America have lost touch with the spiritual roots of the Christian religion. Like Ramsay Cook and other commentators who trace the process of secularization in Canada, Kroeker is struck by the "ironic outcome" of church leaders' attempts to apply the Gospel to contemporary social and economic problems. In developing a "relevant" or effective Christian-based social ethic for society, church leaders have shifted "from religious cosmology to scientism" (122). The churches' public discourse is dominated by concern about maximizing human production and finding the best way to distribute wealth. Kroeker calls such discourse "practical atheism," and he says it lacks wisdom and understanding regarding the "divine order of creation" and comes at the expense of the human spirit. Kroeker's book is consistent with many other conservative tracts in its concern about the lack of a spiritual or moral centre in contemporary Canada.10
In the epilogue to A Concise History of Christianity in Canada, Terrence Murphy points to the downward trend in church membership that began in the 1960s for mainstream churches and is now affecting conservative evangelical churches. But Murphy points out that the influence of religion and the churches has waxed and waned in the past; we cannot read the future from current trends. One thing seems certain: the era of the Christian Church in Canada is likely over. There may well be a resurgence of religion in Canada, but the pluralistic composition of Canadian society and the intermingling and greater tolerance of differing religious traditions means that the monopoly of Christendom in Canada is unlikely to reappear. But while religion is struggling in many churches, it is alive and vibrant in popular culture.
Scholarship in religious history has expanded into numerous lines of inquiry. But historians of religion in Canada are overlooking much religious life. There has been little attention to the margins of religious experience, for example, faith healing and mysticism. There has been little attempt to grasp the complex intermingling of the Christian tradition with numerous other religious or spiritual traditions.11
The challenge is to study how religion is lived or experienced and how it has shaped human behaviour.12 A great deal of Canadian religious history is still written through the perspective of the intellectual historian. This reliance on textual analysis of the Word, especially as it is found in sermon literature and contributions to the denominational press, is most apparent in the literature on Protestantism. Historians of Catholicism, aware of the sacramental aspects of faith, have described the ritual performances of religion in society. But there has been insufficient notice of how the Word has been performed or transmitted in society. Means of communicating the Word other than sermonizing - such as psalm singing, prayer and the rituals of worship have not received adequate attention. There has been no analysis of hymnodies, catechisms, worship directories and liturgies. As well, non-written texts, such as the rituals of religious life and worship, especially baptisms, coming of age, marriages and death, need to be analyzed. The structure and content of religious celebrations, processionals, revivals and regular religious meetings also require analysis. The materials of popular religion need to be studied." We catch a glimpse of how religion is lived in eucharist vessels, communion tokens, devotional manuals and literature and in religious objects displayed in the home. Canadian religious history is not well integrated with popular and material culture.14
Religious history in Canada may be at an important crossroad. The study of religion has successfully come out of the cloister of church history, and now religious history is integrated with analysis of gender and ethnicity and with major themes in social and intellectual history. But there is some peril here. Religion may not be understood as an autonomous dynamic force, but rather as something that is subordinate to or the product of other forces. It may be treated as something that reflects the past but does not shape it. Matters of worship and belief cannot be treated as pale images of larger questions. Religion's role in shaping people's views on such elemental questions as the existence of the supernatural, the possibility of the miraculous or the hope of an afterlife may be overlooked. The risk, however, is that in paying more attention to strictly religious matters, the history of religion will again be relegated to the cloisters. Indeed, the role of religion in Canadian society is often overlooked. Religion has not been satisfactorily woven into the fabric of the more general accounts of Canadian history." Gender, class and race and ethnicity are now used to understand the past; religion may be subsumed by this new "holy trinity" of Canadian historiography and remain on the margins. The challenge for historians of religion is to write boldly. They must make it clear, as they integrate it with the past, that religion is a dynamic force.
1. See Lynne Marks, Revivals and Roller Rinks: Religion, Leisure and Identity in Late Nineteenth Century Small Town Ontario (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).
2. A.R.M. Lower, "Two Ways of Life: The Primary Antithesis in Canadian History," Canadian Historical Association Report (1943): 5-18.
3. Randi Warne, Literature as Pulpit: The Christian Social Activism of Nellie McClung (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1993).
4. There is a paucity of historical scholarship on religion on the prairies. Religion is largely overlooked in Gerald Friesen The Canadian Prairies: A History (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1984), and there is no volume dedicated to religion on the prairie in the critically acclaimed McGill-Queen's Studies in the History of Religion series. The exception to this observation is the Western Oblate Project, which has published a number of full-length monographs, most notably Ray Huel, Proclaiming the Gospel to the Indians and the Metis (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1996) and Donat Levasseur, Les Oblats of Marie Imaculee dans l'Ouest et le Nord du Canada, 1845-1967 (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1995).
5. Royden Louwen, Family, Church, and Market A Mennonite Community in the Old and the New Worlds, 1850-1930 (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993).
6. See Brigham Card et al, eds., The Mormon Presence in Canada (Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 1990) and Donald Godfrey and Brigham Card, eds., The Diaries of Charles Ora Card: The Canadian Years, 1886-1903 (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1993).
7. Marta Danylewycz, Taking the Veil: An Alternative to Marriage, Motherhood and Spinsterhood in Quebec, 1840-1902 (Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 1987).
8. A similar argument about the restriction of women's roles and opportunities is suggested by Johanna Selles, Methodists & Women's Education in Ontario, 1836-1925 (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1996) 6. There is resistance to the idea that a fundamentalist tradition exists in Canada. See John Stackhouse, Canadian Evangelicalism in the Twentieth Century: An Introduction to Its Character (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1993).
9. For a superb study of Mennonites in post World War Two society, see TD. Regehr, Mennonites in Canada, 1939-1970: A People Transformed (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996).
10. Most recently, Brian Stiller, From the Tower of Babel to Parliament Hill: How to be a Christian in Canada Today (Toronto: HarperCollins, 1997).
11. See R. Laurence Moore, Religious Outsiders and the Making of Americans (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); see also Katherine Ridout, "A Woman of Mission: The Religious and Cultural Odyssey of Agnes Wintemute Coates," Canadian Historical Review 71.2 (June 1990).
12. The potential of this approach is demonstrated in Tamar Frankiel, "Ritual Sites in the Narrative of American Religious History," Retelling U.S. Religious History ed. Thomas Tweed, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997) and in Leigh Schmidt, Holy Fairs: Scottish Communions and American Revivals in the Early Modern Period (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989).
13. See, for example, Colleen McDannell, Material Christianity: Religion and Popular Culture in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).
14. A good beginning has been made in this area of the language of action, ritual, symbol and material culture. On material culture see A.J.B. Johnston, Religion and Life at Louisbourg, 1713-1758 (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1984) and William Westfall, "Epics of Stone," Two Worlds: The Protestant Culture of Nineteenth Century Ontario (Montreal: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1989). On the relation between religion and rites of passage, see Serge Gagnon, Mourir hier et aujourd'hui (Quebec: Les Presses de L'Universite Laval, 1987). See also Peter Ward's discussion of marriage and the churches in Courtship, Love, and Marriage in Nineteenth Century English Canada (Montreal: McGillQueen's University Press, 1990) and David Marshall, "`Death Abolished': Changing Attitudes to Death and the Afterlife in Nineteenth Century Canadian Protestantism," Age of Transition: Readings in Canadian Social History, ed. N. Knowles (Toronto: Harcourt Brace, 1998). On ritual and domestic devotion, see Brian Clarke's discussion of Marian devotion and the Rosary in Clarke, Piety and Nationalism: Lay Voluntary Associations and the Creation of an Irish-Catholic Community in Toronto (Montreal & Kingston: McGillQueen's University Press, 1993).
15. Religion is not ignored in the general texts, but it plays a minor role. This applies to the surveys that are most consciously rooted in social as opposed to political history. For example, Margaret Conrad, Alvin Finkel and Cornelius Jaenen, History of the Canadian People: Beginnings to 1867 (Toronto: Copp-Clark Pitman, 1993); and Finkel, Conrad and Veronica Strong-Boag, History of the Canadian People: 1867-Present (Toronto: Copp-Clark Pitman, 1993). Despite the wealth of innovative historical writing on religion in French Canadian society, religion is largely ignored in Paul-Andre Linteau, Rene Durocher and Jean-Claude Robert, Quebec: A History 1867-1923 (Toronto: Lorimer, 1983).
David Marshall teaches history at the University of Calgary. He is the author of Secularizing the Faith: Canadian Protestant Clergy and the Crisis of Belief, 1850-1940 and co-editor of Prophets Priests and Prodigals: Readings in Canadian Religious History, 1608 to Present. Currently he is working on a history of religion in Alberta.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Out of the Cloister but Still on the Margins? Recent Publications in Canadian Religious History. Contributors: Marshall, David - Author. Journal title: Journal of Canadian Studies. Volume: 35. Issue: 3 Publication date: Fall 2000. Page number: 292+. © Trent University Fall 1996. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All Rights Reserved.
This material is protected by copyright and, with the exception of fair use, may not be further copied, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means.